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Who am I?

You can look at my home page for more information, but the short answer is that I'm a dilettante who likes thinking about a variety of subjects. I like to think of myself as a systems-level thinker, more concerned with the big picture than with the details. Current interests include politics, community formation, and social interface design. Plus books, of course.

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Wed, 15 Sep 2004

Autistic management software
I was talking to a friend today who's turning into a manager, and using Microsoft Project to lay out schedules and the like. And I was horrified, given my aversion to such things. But he pointed out that it was handy for him to be able to point at his schedule and say he couldn't do something because something else was a higher priority. Because the priorities had been placed into a concrete form that he could point to, his superiors accepted it without question. I commented that I couldn't get past the poor quality of the abstraction that Microsoft Project imposes on project management, but that when dealing with people who can't distinguish the abstraction from reality, it made sense.

Then a neuron lit up in my brain. The poor sense of social interface design that leads programmers to write oversimplified project management software is the same sense that leads to autistic social software. It's trying to find the easiest instantiation of complex social cues into software. Simplification is inevitable - you have to simplify in order to function under the onslaught of information present in the world. But choosing the right abstraction models, ones that emphasize the relevant quantities, is essential. And maybe the ones chosen by Microsoft Project are right for some people. They don't make sense to me, though. I like Google's model better.

Not a deep thought, but one that amused me and I thought was worth sharing.

posted at: 22:28 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /rants/management | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Political links
Links links links. Yes, I know I try to keep this blog to original content (or at least original to me) (I've got several longer pieces I've been mulling over that haven't quite come together yet), but occasionally a set of links comes in that I want to share.

Extreme Democracy Future Salon
I'll probably attend this tomorrow evening. I've been to only a couple of the Future Salons, but it's a good group, and this looks like a particularly interesting topic, given how much I've been ranting about politics this year. I'm excited about seeing Zack Rosen's presentation on CivicSpace, which I only heard about today, and then noticed that he was going to be at Future Salon tomorrow. He's working on developing software to enable bottom-up grassroots political networking (he started it for Dean's campaign, and has continued it with funding from a couple angel investors). Very neat stuff, and along the lines of some of my pipe dreams. Except that he has motivation. And competence.
Lawrence Lessig at SDForum
I really like Lessig's work, and have read Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and The Future of Ideas, but not Free Culture yet. So he's speaking next week. He's being introduced by Dan Gillmor, the author of We, the Media, a book that intrigued me recently. I'll probably attend. The entire Distinguished Speaker Series this year looks promising, actually. I've been to a couple before, including Paul Saffo, but I always forgot about them. Fortunately, they finally started an announcement list for these talks, so I should be attending more of them.
A march to irrelevance
I really liked this article over on Alternet about how many liberals' idea of protest is thoroughly antiquated in this new century, invoking a 1960s-era mentality that is pointless in today's world. Well written and thoughtful. I've had similar thoughts - last year during the anti-war protests in San Francisco, I asked my friend who participated what he was trying to accomplish - he said "We have to show people that we're against the war!" - "By annoying your neighbors who probably agree with you?" "Well, we have to show the whole world!" "Do you think you're being televised elsewhere?" "Well, it's important!" I wish I had been more eloquent, as this writer is.
Federalist Paper #10
I think I was reading the social interface design forum at Joel on Software, when somebody invoked this Federalist Paper, in response to how the designer can attempt to prevent cliques from forming. And this paper does a pretty good job of identifying how factions form, and what we can do to try to minimize their influence. It's interesting how several of their recommendations start to fall apart in the age of mass media. But the insight into human nature is unmistakable. I should really sit down and read the Federalist Papers at some point. And Tocqueville's Democracy in America. And all sorts of other things. *sigh*
George Lakoff's class Language of Politics
My hero, George Lakoff, is teaching a class in the Language of Politics this term. danah boyd is taking the class, and hosting a blog for those of us that aren't Berkeley students. Neat stuff. Two articles I've read so far that I particularly liked were one on reinventing the Republican party in a way that would actually appeal to me a lot, and one on reinventing the Democratic party, also in a way that appeals to me. Yay being a swing voter. Or at least a swing personality. I'm looking forward to following along with the class.

posted at: 22:17 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /links | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal